Undermining Addiction Treatment For A Petty News Story: The Ethics Bankruptcy Of CBS and Dean Kendrick

"Here you go, Dean. Now: what did Robin Williams share at your AA meeting?"

“Here you go, Dean. Now: what did Robin Williams share at your AA meeting?”

 Alcoholism is a national scourge that destroys lives, families and businesses, and  often kills both sufferers and those they interact with. It it is incurable. One of the few effective methods of keeping alcoholism under control is the Twelve Step program developed by Bill Wilson in the 1930s, and taught by the organization he founded, Alcoholics Anonymous. Millions of Americans attend AA meetings every day, including many who are very close to me.

Dean Kendrick works for CBS affiliate KPIX-5 in San Francisco, and he’s apparently an Alcoholic Anonymous member. This means that 1) we shouldn’t know he’s a member, and 2) especially that he shouldn’t be revealing, especially on television, that anybody else is a member, and 3) he absolutely should not be revealing what someone said or how they acted at a meeting he attended, and 4) this even applies to Robin Williams, dead celebrity that he is.

That “anonymous” in the organization’s title is a big clue.There is a lot of shame associated with alcoholism, as well as a stigma:many alcoholics who function well (sort of, and for a while), and successfully hide their disease for years from co-workers and friends. The bedrock of AA’s proven success is that it guarantees confidentiality to its participants.Every member pledges to keep what occurs in AA meetings secret and private, and to protect the identities and privacy of fellow sufferers  just as those members pledge the same. Without confidence in the anonymity AA provides, many who desperately need the support the organization provides would not participate. Those who did participate would not feel as free to be candid about their feelings and experiences, and sharing is the essence of the treatment. Endangering that confidence strikes at the heart of AA, and quite literally risks lives.

But Dean Kendrick doesn’t care about anything so mundane as the health, trust, and lives of other drunks, nor does he pay much attention to pledges and observations. In this he is supported by his ethics-challenged bosses at CBS, which allowed and encouraged him to violate the late Robin Williams’ trust and simultaneously to undermine the addiction-treating mission of Alcoholics Anonymous and other Twelve Step programs. For Dean Kendrick agreed to appear on CBS during its morning show package and talk about how the deceased comic behaved and what he said during AA meetings Kendrick attended.

“He was one of the very first to raise his hand and open himself to vulnerability but he really, really needed support at the time,” said Kendrick, shattering the AA assurance of anonymity for all members, famous or not. “He was wanting to help people, but he himself needed more help than he could give.”

As he spoke,a photo of Kendrick posing with Williams appeared on the screen. Another segment  appeared on the CBS San Francisco website, in which a reporter quoted Kendrick again, describing Williams’ as “slow in his movements,” and observing that his “demeanor was also very low.”

How many alcoholic celebrities will be discouraged from seeking assistance from Alcoholics Anonymous as a result of Kendricks’ betrayal? Who knows? Their obituaries won’t include that information. How many non celebrities? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Kendrick didn’t consider any of this presumably. I wonder if he got a bonus from CBS for becoming an AA spy.

Thirty pieces of silver would be about right.

Kendrick is the primary villain here, but what of CBS? The news media seldom eschews publishing information it obtains from someone violating their duties of confidentiality, but usually it can claim that is is doing so in the best interests of the public. CBS can’t do that here. It is weakening a national health care resource and addiction treatment movement for the grand purpose of passing along hearsay about Robin Williams to add to the glut of stories that already exceed rational limits on good taste. That trade-off is indefensible.

Laughably, one AA members began criticizing CBS on the social media, the network apparently removed reference to the organization from its web version of the story. Idiots. Once a confidence is broken, it can’t be unbroken; the secret can’t be made secret again after it has been revealed.

There may be more disgusting example of the soulless, irresponsible, dead-eyed ethical vacuum that infects American journalism, but I have to get my gorge down before I’ll be ready to hear about it.


Pointer and Source: Mediaite

14 thoughts on “Undermining Addiction Treatment For A Petty News Story: The Ethics Bankruptcy Of CBS and Dean Kendrick

  1. “There may be more disgusting example of the soulless, irresponsible, dead-eyed ethical vacuum that infects American journalism, but I have to get my gorge down before I’ll be ready to hear about it.”

    It is VERY doubtful that you will ever hear of anything more disgusting, as I, for one, simply cannot think of anything that would be so. Kendrick did this…behavior…in order to get his 15 minutes of fame (and probably money from CBS) but I cannot think of anything that would even explain why CBS would do such a thing, let alone justify it.

  2. Given that the CBS affiliate is a broadcast station and subject to FCC regulations, I wonder how they will frame this issue as it relates to the public good when there license is up for renewal.

    It seems to me that any broadcast medium that purposefully discloses information that must be held private or risks causing a loss of the public’s trust in some other entity is grounds for the suspension or loss of its license.

    Privacy of the individual must be sacrosanct even after death for some period of time. There is a huge difference between what the public needs to know for its own good and what it wants to know. I don’t care if the person was a public figure, we don’t have a need to know or a right to know unless the person in question behaved in a way that created an economic risk for others and that risk continues after his/her death.

  3. Irresponsible hack. AA as an organization really needs to smack on this as the A is what makes this treatment work. If it didn’t always help, Mr. Williams deserves the respect that he was trying. This wasn’t done to explain it to others so they might get help, this wasn’t some investigation, this was only cashing in for attention. If he KNOWS that he was not supposed to blab about someone’s personal demons two weeks ago, today should be the same.

    Like I said in an earlier comment, they all deserve a no confidence and being fired for this dreck. One idiot may happen, but that others cleared it and still think this is responsible journalism, all those who approved also need smacked. Since these stupid and irresponsible people failed, they should be sued or something for things they KNOW were anonymous.

  4. I think this is a good opportunity to educate the public and the media about the purpose of AA’s anonymity. Our society and media are very co-dependent in many ways, encouraging drama and undermining the sane and grounded thinking that is so important for sobriety. Even more than for Robin, I’m sorry for Dean Kendrick for endangering his own sobriety in this way.

  5. I’m reminded of Aaron Sorkin’s side story in “The West Wing” where several high-up White House aides and such met in an ultra-secret version. Because they WERE staying sober, but needed the support they couldn’t get in a more public meeting because of their visibility. In the show, senators, etc. were part of this meeting, and it literally met underground. I sincerely hope that there are more ULTRA-secret versions of AA (and Narcotics Anonymous and the other offshoots) meeting somewhere helping other too-well-known-for-prime-time people. It’s heartbreaking enough that so many people need this sort of supprt. But making it harder for them to get is unconscionable. All who were part of this story will get karma back. I’m sure of it.

  6. Jack,
    The Pharisees paid Judas 30 (not “forty”) pieces of silver to betray Christ. Otherwise, I found the article quite [opinion redacted for irrelevancy]. That is all.


  7. Jack,
    Well, since we’re being technical, Judas also didn’t act as a spy either, per se. The authorities already knew where and when Christ would be, they merely needed Judas to identify him to the Roman soldiers. He was a finger man, at best.

    That said, you’re right. If only we’d thought to back our currency with betrayal instead of gold (or now, nothing).


  8. Thank you Jack – well said. Decades ago media would not touch AA as it was seen to be too important to the well-being of alcoholics and society. The first person to try to undermine AA was a journalist called Jack Alexander in his milestone piece published in the Saturday Evening Post on March 1, 1941. He thought AA was some sort of racket and that someone was making money from sick drunks. He found that the opposite was true. He reports a society of sober people who primary purpose is to help sober new drunks. He reports that there are no dues to pay, that the society is fully functioned by volunteers and therefore AA is completely benigh altruistic movement that should be respected & encouraged. The baptist minister, Billy graham called AA the biggest miracle of the 20th century. As journalists, we need to be educated about AA and how to report (or not report) facts about the movement. Indeed the Jack Alexander article was the first to use “false names” to protect the anonymity of members of AA including co-founders Bill W & Dr Bob.

    • “Decades ago media would not touch AA as it was seen to be too important to the well-being of alcoholics and society.”
      Only in recent years has it been acceptable for media to discuss alcoholism at all. Stereotypes of the tough-drinking man, virtually abstinent female, children, teens, and the occasionally bingeing college-aged male abounded.
      Only in recent years have alcoholic women been regarded with anything but pure disgust and incredulity.
      I don’t know that anyone ever sat down and considered AA to be of such importance. To most, including AA members, it would have been an embarrassment (and possibly a threat to employment) to ever consider violating the anonymity of AA.
      In its inception, and for a very long time after that, AA was a patriarchic organization, and a heavily Christian one at that.
      It’s virtually impossible to attend meetings and remain anonymous in smaller towns, especially with the advent of social media with much snapping and chatting. Privacy itself is difficult enough.
      I wasn’t raised with any religion at all. This was intentional and although both my sister and I received various forms of education about beliefs and religion, when we explored extensively on our own, nothing really took.
      The business about being a higher power ‘as you would perceive it’ was a bone tossed to satisfy those who claimed AA was basically a religious group. Having attended a few in more than one city I can verify that it is. I have no opinion about whether this helps or hinders recovery, it’s just a fact.
      Variations on 12-step practises may well help people with addictions but it must be recognized that AA, as it has existed historically and today, actually has a pretty poor success record when it comes to long-term continuous sobriety.
      I don’t think I saw the particular program in question but there is more than adequate statistical information online.

  9. I guess it’s become old hat these days to spread around stories about recently deceased celebrities, true or false, to make a disreputable buck out of it. At least, it was ONCE considered disreputable. I don’t know if those basic standards of decent confidentiality apply anywhere anymore. I’m not so much concerned about some Hollywood lowlife violating his oath to Alcoholics Anonymous as I am the willingness of a major television news organization to give him a forum and make it worth his while.

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